Some of these are just plain insulting.
Where are men and women most vulnerable? What specific things do their partners say to them that bother them the most? When and how do they feel the most criticized?
You asked me, I asked them, and they answered.
As always, I had to see a clear pattern in the answers before I included a specific point. Nothing appears below that was just a one-off complaint. The eight points below were all overarching trends in the responses.
Also, I think it’s worthwhile to mention that many of the following things didn’t have to be overtly or repeatedly brought up by their partner. These topics were so painful to receive negative feedback on, that their partner could even hint at being displeased about it and it would stick in the person’s mind for months/years/decades.
So without further ado, here is what people hate to hear from their partner the most, both men and women.
We’ll start with the women:
1. He criticizes my body or tells me I’m fat.
Far and beyond, one of the things that appeared in a lot of the responses was that women felt sensitive and hurt (understandably) when their partners made judgmental comments about their bodies.
“I almost hate to say it because it sounds like such a typical North American woman thing to say, but I really do hate when he even hints at me being overweight. I know I’ve put on some pounds these past few years, and I don’t like it and I’m sensitive about it. So when he mentions that he notices it, it just boils my blood.” — Chelsey, 51
“My last boyfriend and I were heading out to a party one night when he told me that he wanted me to change my dress because it was ‘really obvious that I was getting a tummy and people might ask us if we were pregnant.’ I get that he told me this because of his own buried insecurities, but it pissed me off for so long. I broke up with him a couple of weeks later, but I was mad at him, and myself, for at least half a year about that.” — Nicole, 36
Their body is their body. Either love them as they are, or let them find another partner who will. Criticizing their physical appearance will get you nowhere.
2. He dislikes how I taste/smell.
I assumed that there would be a few of these comments being made, but I was surprised by the percentage of responses that mentioned this one.
“Pretty much the only thing that I’ve ever dumped a guy for right away (in my long and sordid dating history) was when this one dolt told me that I tasted bad the first time we slept together. It was so disappointing because he had zero red flags against him in our first handful of dates. We got hot and heavy one night (around our fifth date, if my memory serves me) and he dropped that bomb.” — Lanie, 42
On a biological level, enjoying someone’s taste and smell is important. The pleasant smell and taste of our partner’s genitals (male or female) is an indicator of health, and it also gives us subconscious cues as to our genetic compatibility with them (i.e., if you’re immune to certain diseases and your partner is immune to other diseases, then you will be more likely to enjoy each other’s scents and tastes because your bodies will be giving you the subconscious cues to mate with them).
It essentially says, “You have complementary immune systems. You would make healthy babies. Mate with this one!” So if you really find yourself repelled by your new partner’s smell and/or taste, then there might be some genuine validity to your concern (especially if you want children one day).
But on the social level, an offhand comment like this can last with someone for years/decades/the rest of their life. So just don’t say anything. You not liking the taste of their genitals might say something about your underlying genetic compatibility, but it doesn’t say anything about them as a person. So there’s zero need to give them a complex about it. If you don’t like how your partner tastes, keep your criticism to yourself and move on.
3. He thinks I'm too emotional.
This point was mentioned time and time again, with somewhat varying language behind it. Replace "too emotional" with "you’re being crazy," "you’re being overly dramatic," "you cry too easily." And this was one of the most recurring points by far across all of the responses.
“I feel like my emotional bandwidth has to be kept under wraps sometimes with my husband. Which sucks! Because he was so game for anything when he was first courting me. But I feel like the longer we’ve been together the more he tries to limit the ups and downs of my emotional expression. It’s the only thing in our relationship that keeps me from feeling fully able to surrender to him.” — Josephine, 47
“Easy. It’s whenever my boyfriend tells me I’m being crazy or irrational. I know that I can be a bit dramatic at times, but I really feel like he uses it too liberally. Like it’s supposed to be this all-purpose fight-ender and it usually has the opposite effect on me. I just get more worked up because I feel like he isn’t taking me seriously.” — Marjori, 32
4. My sex drive is too high/low.
Surprisingly (to some), I received an almost 50/50 equal number of women saying that they felt criticized for having too HIGH of a sex drive compared to women who felt criticized for having too LOW of a sex drive. So it went both ways. Take that societal myth!
“I feel like magazines and movies push this idea that men are the oversexed ones in every relationship, that they constantly want it and women largely acquiesce to it. Every relationship in my life has been the exact opposite. When I’m with someone and sex is a huge part of any healthy relationship, I want to have sex with my husband every day and I’m usually the one who instigates.
I’d say I instigate sex at least 90 percent of the time, but I feel like a burden to him sometimes. It’s something I already feel kind of insecure about and so whenever he hints at me wanting too much from him sexually, I feel so bad. My mind is like 'Okay, great... so he might not be that into me AND I’m a pushy/bossy wife?' He’s never said it in those terms, but my mind just runs rampant with this stuff.” — Alice, 37
“I know that my husband connects with me sexually easier than does through verbal communication. And I’m a talker. So it’s a tough spot. But he does his best to speak his mind even when it’s tough for him, and I do my best to have and/or initiate sex even if I don’t feel 100 percent in the mood. I’m not dishonoring my body to do it, I just give myself an internal nudge and kind of just get on board with it. And I’m always enjoying it once it’s actually happening. But yes, I’ve had to somewhat earn my way to get to that place through a lot of work.
Anyways, when he wants to have sex and I’m really not in the mood, I can feel it in his body language that he feels rejected and I just feel awful. I KNOW that he isn’t being intentionally manipulative or anything at all by physically shutting down somewhat, but damn do I wish I could just always be in the mood." — Joan, 32
Interesting right? I found some of the trends fairly surprising, and others to be somewhat unfortunately expected.
Now, here’s what the guys had to say in response to the same questions:
5. She thinks my penis is too small or not hard enough.
Unsurprisingly to many, guys were very sensitive to any criticism directed at their little friends downstairs. Movies, magazines, and media constantly reference this and make jokes about it because a lot of guys genuinely feel insecure as to how their penises measure up compared to other men.
“It’s a very simple answer for me. The biggest thing I don’t like hearing my partner say is anything about my penis size being lacking. Strangely enough, only one partner has ever mentioned anything negative about my penis size. So percentage wise I’m doing really well. But because of that one person, it’s still something that I’m waiting for every other woman that I’m intimate with to also mention. I mean it’s very likely that that was just that one woman’s perception of me, but still, it stung a lot and I remember it to this day. It was the worst.” — Scott, 29
“I’m getting into my middle-aged, somewhat older years and it’s just a fact that it can take a little bit longer to get an erection after 30 or 40. Testosterone drops off slowly and nature does its thing. I get that. I don’t blame aging. But it does take a bit more direct stimulation for me to get an erection when my wife and I are first being sexual with each other, and my erectile strength can vary a bit more than it used to.
I don’t want to take any prescription meds and feel like I’m lying to my wife, but I’ve definitely been tempted. There’s been a small handful of times where she’ll let out what sounds like a small, exasperated sigh when it takes a bit longer for me to get an erection and I immediately feel like I’m failing her as a man.” — Todd, 52
6. I don't last long enough in bed.
The trends of “feeling like I don’t last long enough” and “being told that my sex drive is too high/low” are certainly different pain points, but they were almost always mentioned in tandem by everyone who mentioned them. So I compounded them into one point for the purposes of brevity.
“I’ve been putting a lot of work into increasing my sexual stamina over the past few months. I used to last less than two minutes probably 90+ percent of the time. Now it’s more like I can last as long as I want to 95+ percent of the time. But there’s still that 1-in-20 time where I’ll orgasm a lot faster than I want to. When my fiancee notices that I didn’t perform as well as usual, there’ve been some times where she isn’t very nice about it. And it makes me feel very unsafe very quickly. Her response to that situation is the only thing I wish I could change about our relationship. I feel totally safe and supported otherwise.” — Lucas, 36
“My girlfriend has a way higher sex drive than me. It’s one of those funny things that you’ll never complain about to your guy friends because you’ll straight up get zero sympathy. ‘Awww... your girlfriend wants to have too much sex with you? F*ck off.’ So I just keep it to myself. But yeah, it sucks sometimes. She makes little comments here and there, and it hurts. I feel like I can’t provide for her and I’m absolutely doing my best.” — Bryan, 48
“I’m 26, engaged to an amazing woman, and my life is great overall. The only discrepancy between us is that I want to have sex every day and she wants it maybe three times a week at most. I’m young and healthy, so a part of me is just wishing that around 30-35 my sex drive will dip slightly and we’ll be at a more even place. I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m hassling her.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m definitely not rude about it. But I can’t help but feel like in even gently suggesting sex too many times that she’s worrying about how she feels like she’s failing me. She isn’t. I can masturbate. I can kiss her while I finish myself off. I obviously don’t need to penetrate her in any way in order to feel sexually satisfied. But one time, instead of sweetly turning me away, or using a bit more compassion (like she usually does) she just said ‘Can you stop bugging me for a few days?’ and my blood went cold. I felt terrible, but I just rolled over and silently cried myself to sleep.” Nathaniel, 26
7. She criticizes me in front of mutual friends and/or work colleagues.
Out of these four categories of responses, this one surprised me the most. I’ve heard similar things come out of the mouths of my clients before, but I certainly didn’t expect such a volume of guys saying the same thing over and over around feeling criticized in front of others.
“My boyfriend is a total sweetheart, but he also has a bit of a mean streak that can come out at really inappropriate times. For me, the most painful digs aren’t so much about the content of his message as they are about the timing of when he criticizes me. Whether he’s subtly insulting my outfit, my recent sexual performance or some joke that I tried to tell that didn’t land, I hate it when he criticizes me in front of others. If you have a problem with something I’ve said or done, then tell me. But tell me on our own time and not in front of other people.” — Josh, 31
“I’d like to think that my girlfriend and I have very similar senses of humor. So much of our relationship is based on laughter. We’re constantly laughing. Sometimes, in group settings, I make jokes that push the envelope a bit too far. That’s just how I am. My filter doesn’t function that well for the most part. Sometimes when I throw out these jokes and she doesn’t agree with them, she’ll really lean into them. If you don’t like a joke, fine. Don’t laugh. But I hate it when she really cuts into me in front of our friends about it.” — Brad, 44
8. She hates my career/job/income.
Unsurprisingly, many men mentioned they felt sensitive about having their partners criticize their career, job, or income level. While reading all of the feedback from both the male and female responders, the old adage "women are sex objects and men are success objects" came to mind many times. Just as many men seemed to feel a lot of pressure to be high-income earners, as women felt pressure to appear a certain way physically.
But even more than just the number on the page of what they earned, many men mentioned a longing to want their partner to be able to stand behind their work because the men who wrote in felt so deeply aligned with their careers that they questioned if they were with the right partners.
“When my long-term girlfriend drops hints about not really believing in the work that I’m doing, it instantly makes me doubt her and our relationship. Truthfully, I feel like nothing could make me change my mind about someone faster than them doubting my career path. If they have a valid point and they see something that I am unable to see I am absolutely open to hearing about it. But when she criticizes my career path that I feel deeply grounded in, it’s almost like a light switch goes from on to off and I just check out emotionally.” — Jason, 54
“Me and my wife are DINK’s (dual income, no kids). She makes good money and I make good money. But some months (we’re both partially self-employed) she makes better money than I do. Whenever I’m doing better than her I never mention it. Not even once. When she’s beating me financially, she almost always mentions it. I’ve told her how much it bothers me and it hasn’t stopped or changed anything. I don’t need to be making more money than her, I just want to be with a partner that doesn’t need to point out something that they seem to perceive as lacking in me.” — Ryan, 35
You might have noticed a meta-level trend across all eight of these points. The subtext across the board, as I perceive it, is that men and women are not feeling loved and accepted as they are. They aren’t necessarily being criticized frequently, but when they are criticized on these specific points, it carries an extra painful sting with it (especially from a significant other whom they love and trust).
This article was originally published at Jordan Gray Consulting. Reprinted with permission from the author.